Monday, June 27, 2016

More Uncomfortable Childhood Life Lessons

Other lessons learned on Eddie Lane involved dishonesty, injustice, insecurity, and parenting.

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents in Amity, Arkansas before I started school and during the summers. I think it was easier for my mom that I stayed with my grandparents because she was a single parent of four kids working full time.

Both my grandparents also worked sometimes. My grandfather was a handyman around town and my grandmother often worked in restaurants or the school cafeteria as a cook. She was a great cook.


My great-grandmother, on my grandfather's side, also lived in Amity. She lived in a one-floor apartment complex only for retired people. Her name was Eula but we called her "Granny."

Her husband, Andy, had died before I was born.

We used to spend a lot of time with her when my grandparents were working. When we were younger, we loved it. We could play outside because her complex was away from the main road and we knew a lot of the other retired people in the complex.

Next door to granny was Hatty Wilson. We loved to visit her. When I started doing our ancestry, I found that she might actually be the sister-in-law of Granny. I never knew that. I knew they spent time together but I also got the impression that Hatty and Granny did not like each other very much.

Granny had other grandchildren, mostly older than me, that sometimes came over. I was never close to my cousins. Granny had a record player and they sometimes left their records. I remember listening to the Beatles on a record with an apple picture on it.

Another thing we often did at Granny's was put lotion on her feet. She had really scaley feet. I knew at a very young age I never wanted to have such scaley and scratchy hard feet.

We did not mind putting the lotion on her feet for a long time, but it did get old, and we started not liking it.

One time she asked me to do it and I refused. She insisted and I refused. I told her I wanted to go home - back to my grandparent's house. She said we couldn't and again insisted I put lotion on her feet.

I decided I was going home and ran out of the house. I ran out of the apartment complex, down the long side road, and then started running up the long main road that led to my grandparent's house.

Granny, even at her advanced age, was running after me, yelling. She told a teenager on a bike she would pay him if he caught me.

A man in a pickup truck saw us, turned down one of the side roads from the main road ahead of me, and captured me.

He held me until granny caught up.

I was very mad at that man - but of course, he was actually nice because I was probably less than five years old running on the sidewalk of the major road that ran through Amity.

I am sure I got in trouble, maybe even a spanking, I don't remember. I also probably got a spanking, and definitely a stern "talking to" by my grandfather when I finally made it home that night. Again, I don't remember.

I do know I went to visit granny less often after that.

When it was time to start school, I went to kindergarten and first grade in Amity with my grandparents. 

Attending kindergarten in Amity was great. My grandparents taught me the alphabet and numbers before I even started. I really liked my teacher. Mostly I remember coloring and making crafts as well as practicing the alphabet and numbers sometimes.

My grandmother worked in the school cafeteria. I remember whenever I was sick, I would take my tray through the line to get my portions. My grandmother would meet me at the end of the line with a spoon of Robitussin. I would take my dose, then take my tray to the lunch table to eat.


My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Sutton, was different.

I always remembered her name because the coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks football team that year was named Eddie Sutton. The Razorbacks had a great season, so everyone said the name constantly. For a long time, I thought Eddie Sutton was Mrs. Sutton's husband.

Mrs. Sutton used to talk to us first-graders about lots of life things. I remember she told us the problem with kids was that their parents spanked them too lightly. She said if you spank kids lightly they just get mad at you. If you spank them really hard they will fear you and then they will mind you.

Not sure what that was about. Did she really believe that or was she just trying to scare us? [paddling was still legal then]

But what she said always stuck in my mind. For many years I would recall her "lesson," massage the idea in my mind, add additional information I had gained since first-grade, and decide what I thought about it. "Did I believe it? Did it makes sense to me?"

Every time I rejected it as not logical.

My mom spanked me - mostly with a belt. Not that often, but that was usually how it was done.

My grandparents talked to me about what I had done, why it was wrong, and how disappointed they were in me for my actions.

I often thought, "Just spank me already!"

The "talking to" was by far the worst punishment imaginable.  My grandparents' disappointment was torture - an emotional pain that lasted far longer than the physical pain of a spanking.

I can see where spanking is easier. You don't have to find the time or words to have the conversation. Spanking is quick, more of a physical release for the fear or anger a parent is feeling over what the child has done.

I can also see where a spanking might be necessary when a child simply is not phased by the idea of "disappointing" his or her parents.

The important thing is that parents think about punishment: what they will do, how they will do it, and what they want to accomplish with it.

School Politics

Then again, maybe I rejected the hard spanking idea partly because of the source - Mrs. Sutton.

Some of the other kids, all boys, told me they did not read during reading class. Mrs. Sutton would have us all sit at the table, open our books, and read silently. The kids told me they would just bow their head but not read.

In my infinite first-grade wisdom, I decided to do the same.

What I failed to realize was that Mrs. Sutton gave the boys a pass when she called on them to talk about the reading and they did not know the answers - she was not so understanding of the girls.

Whether she figured out I was not reading or I too often failed to answer the questions when she called on me, I honestly do not remember.

At any rate, she placed me in the remedial reading class.

My grandmother was livid. I had been reading, out loud, to my grandparents since kindergarten. I actually loved to read from a very young age and that love only increased over the years.

She went to the school and got into an argument with Mrs. Sutton, insisting that I be tested.  Mrs. Sutton refused and stood by her decision.

My grandmother went to the principal, who was a personal friend, but the principle said she had to stand by the teacher's decision.

I witnessed the whole thing. All I really understood was that my grandmother felt something wrong was happening to me and she was trying to make it better. I did not understand the significance of being placed in a different reading group, but I knew my grandmother loved me because she was standing up for me.

I guess my grandmother also taught me about advocacy and fighting for justice.

That was the last year I attended school in Amity.

[Later in school I was raised from remedial reading class directly to the most advanced reading class - skipping two levels in between. A story for another time.]

Mirror, Mirror

I was born fair skinned, blonde, and blue-eyed. Strangers always commented on how pretty I was and my beautiful blue eyes. [My hair darkened as I got older.]

My oldest sister, eight years older, loved to photograph me. She always dressed me in different clothes and took pictures of me in different locations - under the shade of a tree, in the grass under the sun, at the edge of lakes and streams.

One day, when I was around four or five years old, I was sitting on her bathroom sink while she was doing my hair before one of her "photo shoots."

I looked in the mirror and said, "I'm pretty."

She replied, "That's conceited."

"What's conceited?" I asked. 

"That's when people say they're pretty. It's not nice. People don't like conceited people," she explained.

And the seed of insecurity was planted. 

Until I was around 17 years old, I could not look in the mirror and say I looked nice... even silently. 

One day I just decided it was not healthy - that the basic concept of thinking you look "pretty" or "look nice" was not what conceited meant. 

But I suffered a lot of years, experienced a lot of insecurity, before I embraced that concept. 

Children literally take things literally. Words are seeds and children are a fertile garden.

Something to Cry About

Whenever I would cry - like cry for no reason - my mother (just like most of the other Southern mothers of her generation) would say, "You want me to give you something to cry about?"

That was usually effective.

Similarly, when we went to a restaurant or a store, if we cried or started "acting up" my mother would say, "You want to go to the bathroom?" or "Do you want me to take you to the car?"

In all my years I never remember actually going to the bathroom or the car, but, maybe because I was the youngest, I knew that was code for "You want a spanking?"

It was always effective at immediately stopping the offending behavior.

The reason it was effective was because I believed her. I sincerely believed that she would, in fact, take me to one of the locations and give me a spanking.

I see parent today threaten their kids with "punishment" of various sorts, yet the kids continue like nothing was promised - because it wasn't. The kids don't believe because most parents rarely follow through on the punishment "threats."

Crying Doll

At other times, only at home, when I was crying, maybe over nothing or maybe crying longer than my mother felt was long enough, I remember my mom would get "the doll."

In my older sister's bathroom, there was a crying Native American doll. Her face was all scrunched up, her eyes squinted closed, with a tear on her cheek. My mother had picked it up at a tourist store, I think the one connected to Dogpatch USA in northern Arkansas. I think that because when I got older I found the same doll at that store.

Anyway, my mom would get the doll, show it to me, and tell me I looked like that when I cried.

To be honest, it usually made me cry harder.

I don't remember any traumatic effects from it - except I hated that doll with a passion. 

The Money Jar

I had a friend who lived on a different street. We were friends because her dad was in the Reserves with my step-dad. My mom let me go to her house the summer after first grade. Her mother was supposed to be home to watch us, but sometimes she would leave us home alone when she wanted to run errands. We were supposed only to play in the house, not leave the house.

As children are apt to do, we thought a "quick trip" to the 7-11 "around the corner" (the next street over) would be okay.

My friend had money, and we wanted some candy.

No doubt all our parents would have had a heart attack because "Sin City" was exactly behind the 7-11.

But nothing bad happened.

She took the money out of the change jar on the built-in bookcase above the television, and we bought lots of candy.

It was a great day.

That evening there was a knock on our front door. My step-dad answered the door and it was my friend's mom.

She accused me of stealing the collector coins from her house... from the money jar on the bookcase above the television.

My step-dad asked her to wait outside, came back in the house, closed the door, and asked me about my day.

I thought I was in trouble for going to the 7-11. I told him my friend had money and we made a "quick trip" to the 7-11 for candy. I swore we went straight there and back to the house.

He asked me where the money came from. I told him my friend had climbed onto the bookcase and took down the money jar.

He went back outside and explained to the mother that her own daughter had offered up the money. I could hear her yelling through the front door, which my step-dad had left slightly ajar. I also heard him calmly explaining to her that he was sorry about her collector coins but that she needed to focus her disappointment on her own daughter rather than a visiting friend.

He also pointed out her own error of leaving two children of six home alone. Had she been home, where she was supposed to be, the coins would never have been lost.

I never forgot how calmly my step-dad talked to me. I never forgot how calmly he spoke to her. I never forgot how he defended me - not blindly like "not my kid" but logically after getting the facts and evaluating them.

Needless to say, her mother never again allowed me over.

The "Lost" Wallet

That same summer, I made another friend. We were the same age. For second grade I was scheduled to go to the local elementary, Watson Elementary, and she had always gone to a private Christian school.

At the end of my dead-end street, there was a wooden fence. On the other side of the wooden fence was a trailer park, on Daily Drive. There was a broken wood plank that we could crawl through. It was almost a straight shot from my house to the end of the street, through the fence, into the trailer park. Her trailer was on the end, two trailers to the right of the fence.

We played together most days. Her parents would not let her come to my house, but I was allowed to go to her house almost every day.

I thought she was super cool because, while I knew the alphabet before I even went to kindergarten, she knew it backward. It was a little strange that she only knew it backward, but it was so cool that she could start from "z" instead of "a."

She lived with her mom, dad, and adult brother. I think she was a "mistake" because she was six while her brother was twenty-six.

One day we were playing at her house. She took me to her brother's bedroom and showed me her brother's wallet. It was brown and thick from all the stuff in it. She took the money out of it, it looked like a lot of money to us, and we were googly-eyed about seeing it.

She then said she wanted to play a joke on her brother. She decided to hide the wallet in his dresser. I watched her but did not think anything of it.

That night, her mother called my house totally freaking out. My mom was not home and my oldest sister answered the phone.

The mother said they could not find her son's wallet and it had the bill money in it. She said my friend told them she saw me with it when I was there. The mother insisted I stole the wallet.

I denied it and said my friend had hidden it in the brother's dresser. They said they did not believe me and insisted I come to the house immediately, and bring the wallet.

I did go to their house, alone. I walked into his room and simply pointed to where the wallet was: pushed back in a hole on the top of the dresser - not visible if you just looked at the dresser, but completely visible if you leaned down and looked inside.

Her parents never allowed me back either.

Trouble With Boys

Second grade in Little Rock was very different than Amity. Amity was a small town, everyone knew each other, and only white people lived there.

I often heard residents of Amity laughingly say black people traveling from Arkadelphia to Hot Springs on the "highway" through Amity would drive very fast, never stop, and would only do so during daylight hours.

Little Rock was different. Both black and white kids went to school at Watson Elementary. It was a school that had mostly middle to lower class residents. Single-family homes, apartments, and pubic housing (i.e. "the projects" and Sin City).

Once the phone rang and someone asked for me. One of my second-grade classmates was calling. My oldest sister answered and told him I was too young to talk on the phone.

I then got in trouble for giving him my phone number.

I did not know my phone number.

Eventually, we figured out that my mom had written my name and phone on my lunch box.

At school the next day, when we were going to recess, I told the boy he got me in trouble because he called me. He said he was sorry and then asked if I wanted to "F" (He said the full word). I told him I did not know what that was, so "no."

When I got home I asked my older sister what the word meant.

She didn't tell me, but I got in trouble again.

I avoided the boy for the rest of the year. I even asked the teacher to move my chair away from his. All I knew was that this boy kept getting me in trouble.

Kids Games

A popular game on the playground was "kiss chase." The metal fences around the playground were "base," the safe place. The boys always chased the girls. If you were caught, you got kissed on the cheek.

I totally misunderstood the game.

I thought the point was to avoid being caught, that the kiss was punishment.

I could never understand why the girls were so slow and always got caught.

I never got caught.

Eventually, the boys stopped chasing me, which was not fun - which I interpreted as being sore losers - so I stopped playing the game and moved onto to other playground activities. 

Blessing or curse, I remember a lot of details and have always spent a lot of time analyzing what I observe. Very little I observe has ever just been a memory. Every memory has a lesson in it - and it's been that way since I was very young.

The "lessons" I learned at the time sometimes have changed over the years as I gained more information and again reflected on the memory - reanalyzing, reevaluating, maybe even changing my mind about the situation or the "lesson."

It equally possible that my memories are not perfect, that I have added or omitted details over time. What is important is that each one, even if not 100% accurate, still contains a lesson.

While many people say I am an anomaly because I so deeply remember what I observed, and analyzed it, I actually think, for whatever reason, that part of my brain was just "turned on" at a young age.

I think everyone - even children - if given the right stimulus, could do the same.

I actually think our society would be better if more of us did dig deeper, looked for lessons, instead of just avoiding "uncomfortable" memories.

Deedra Abboud is the founder of the Global Institute of Solution Oriented Leadership, a "rising tide raising all boats" resource on the art and science of finding solutions, not fault - at work, at home, and in the community. She is an author, keynote speaker, lawyer, and frequent media resource. When she's not helping clients or speaking at organization events, she's traveling the world.  At last count, she's been to over 15 countries including Bahrain, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.

1 comment:

  1. Mrs. Deedra .. Ramadan Mubarak and I ask Allah to accept our prays.

    I enjoyed reading this post. It resembles old time when it was simple & better memories. It seems I have voletile memory where only 3 members of my family reconize all historical details of our childhood. May as I m looking in the future more, I tend to envision future details (analysis ....) more than past :).

    Please keep writing ...